Essay, Research Paper: Scarlet Letter And Evil Problem

Literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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The virtue of truth and the evil of secret sin are clearly illustrated in the
novel, The Scarlet Letter, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The three main
characters in this novel display their own honesty and sins. Hester Prynne
exhibits the essence of truth and pride when she bravely faces the humiliation
of the scaffold. In chapter 17, when Hester apologizes to Dimmesdale about
concealing Chillingworth’s identity, she says, “In all things else, I have
striven to be true! Truth was the one virtue which I might have held, and did
hold fast, through all extremity…A lie is never good, even though death
threaten on the other side (pg. 202)!” It is Hester’s pride, which sustains
her from the beginning of the novel to the end, when she dies, still sporting
the scarlet A on her bosom. Hester’s sin is the sin which gives the book its
title and around which the action of the book resolves. Adultery, which was
prohibited by the Seventh Amendment, was usually punished by death. A woman in
the crowd stated, “At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot
iron on Hester Prynne’s forhead…She may cover it (the scarlet letter) with a
brooch, or such like heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave as
ever (pg. 53)!” Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale shows truth by his occupation.
People living in Boston, Massachusetts looked up to and respected Dimmesdale
because he was a minister. One of his sins was his inability to publicly
acknowledge that he committed adultery with Hester and that he is the father of
Pearl, Hester’s daughter. However, adultery was not his biggest sin. His
biggest sin is hypocrisy. In chapter ten, he speaks of the concealment of his
sins, he says, “It may be that they are kept silent by the very constistution
of their nature. Or-can we not suppose it-guilty as they may be, retaining,
nevertheless, a zeal for God’s glory and man’s welfare…no evil of the past
be redeemed by better service (pg. 137).” While trying to conceal his sins,
they take over his conscience and literally confess themselves during his acts
of madness. The third main character, Roger Chillingworth, is a pretty innocent
man in the beginning of this book. He comes to America to be reunited with his
wife, Hester, but soon comes to find out that she has committed adultery.
Chillingworth has however committed two sins also. One of them being against
nature. He says, “A man already in decay, having given my best years to feed
the hungry dream of knowledge, -what had I to do with youth and beauty like
thine own (pg. 77)!” Sin, in actuality, begins to take possession of
Chillingworth when he noticed Hester on the scaffold. Chillingworth eventually
destroys himself. As he is talking to Hester in chapter fourteen when he has
realized what has happened between Hester and Dimmesdale, he says, “Dost thou
remember me? Was I not, though you might deem me cold, nevertheless a man
thoughtful for others, craving little for himself, -kind, true, just, and of
constant, if not warm affections? Was I not all this (pg. 180)?” As shown in
the novel, each individual character displayed both senses of truth and evil.
Some were less severe than others, but still sins. Overall, a lesson of purity
is developed throughout the book.
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